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For Mask of Truth, story is both its greatest asset and greatest failing

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Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth

By Alexander O. Cuaycong

FOR THE REVIEW of the prequel Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, please refer to this link: https://goo.gl/zmGgHu

Released in Japan in September 2016 and translated to English for Western markets the year after, Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth (MoT) picks up from where Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception (MoD) left off.

In following the exploits of main protagonist Haku in his adopted homeland of Yamato, it sees Osthor, one of his companions and the Royal General of the Right, killed in battle. He then takes it upon himself to continue Osthor’s struggle, even going so far as to take advantage of their similarities in appearance in order to assume the latter’s identity.

From MoT’s start evolves a surprisingly interesting narrative, one that those new to the series, and perhaps even to visual novels (VNs), may well fail to notice. Osthor is hardworking, strong-willed, and idealistic, which is to say Haku’s complete opposite, compelling him to suppress his personality to keep his deception going.

This, even as he learns firsthand how much influence the man he is impersonating wields, and, likewise, how important he himself was to people who believe it was he who fell in battle.

Considering the expansive backdrop, framed with falling empires, large-scale battles and powerful enemies and allies revealing themselves chapter-by-chapter, MoT delves into an intriguing premise, where Haku is not just dealing with inner conflict, but also with the actual demons that are plaguing his land.

This juxtaposition propels the plot and keeps the gamer/reader going, as Haku is pressed into conflict after conflict while struggling to keep his identity secret. In this sense MoT’s greatest asset — its story line — also underscores its biggest failing. It relies too much on information from the prequel to move forward.

Granted, the game’s prologue sequence does try to fill the gaps, but a large part of what makes it gripping is undermined by the inordinate amount of time gamers bumble along and try to glean the backstory harking to MoD from text alone. It certainly adds unnecessary length to what is already a protracted reading; clocking in at around 60 hours, MoT can be a text-dependent chore even for avid VN fans. In short, it’s as much of an acquired taste as its older sibling, especially to those who aren’t predisposed to Utawarerumono’s overly dramatic pacing.

Occasionally, MoT’s story is broken up by “battles,” though, as before, they seem to be just a way to break up the monotony more than anything else. Featuring tactical RPG-esque mechanics, the fights feel more like light bonuses than apt challenges, as they are neither particularly hard nor absorbing enough to spur strong positive sentiments. Attacks can feel flat and generic, and battles unsatisfying as a whole, even with its QTE (quick time event)-like segments mid-swing. That said, the combat system is serviceable, and Munechika’s Trials, its version of a free battle/quest system, does add in a bit of variety when players get tired of reading.

Overall, MoT holds its own when compared to other VNs. Fights can be a bit boring, but, at worst, provide welcome side-activities from time to time. It doesn’t break new ground, but it at least stays faithful to the Utawarerumono series and provides a good jump-off point for the next release.

For all its emphasis on fan-service and overreliance on MoD, it’s a good pickup for those partial to VNs in general and those who love the franchise in particular.


Video Game Review

Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth
PlayStation 4

THE GOOD

• A VN lover’s haven, with tons of dialogue and voiced text

• Outstanding music and sound design C

• Compelling premise and character development

THE BAD

• Combat mechanics could be better

• Overreliance on MoD to get the ball rolling

• Segments of the story tend to drag on

RATING: 7/10

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